Who won? SAP or Salesforce.com…or a player yet to be named?

Techmeme is all a buzz yesterday with reaction and analysis to the Benioff vs. Plattner discussion cum debate at the Churchill Club (as an aside I seem to remember that all of the Churchill club events were podcast at one point and would love to hear this one with my own ears but it seems they have closed up.  Anyone got a pointer to an MP3 somewhere?  UPDATE – I understand that ZDNet will be posting audio but haven’t found it yet).
SaaSy SAP vs. Salesforce debate: Is Benioff overestimating his platform? | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com

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Salesforce.com’s Benioff bests SAP’s Plattner in debate | Outside the Lines – CNET News.com

The arguments of the old guard and the new seem to be pretty well laid out.  The positions are taken.

Benioff – “All 41,000 Salesforce customers are on the same version. When we release the new version in June, we don’t break the links. In some cases they have to re-implement, but you still have a managed environment”
Plattner – “I would be scared at what you just said. If you extend that to whole enterprise system, I would be scared to death.”

So who will win.  Of course I can’t get my recent re-reading of “The Big Switch” out of my mind, which gives me all sorts of reasons that the ‘upstart’ will take the day.  SAAS is easier.  Gives the buyer ‘instant gratification.  And whatever you give up in customization you more than gain back in connectivity.  But then again, I have my long experience working for ‘enterprises’ from 5,000 to now more than 200,000 people.  I know the bias that exists in organizations for believing that ‘our way is special – we are different,’ which is exactly the feeling that Plattner is trying to appeal to.
Unlike most things in the tech industry this will play out over a generation rather than weeks or months.  Thats because it’s not a technology problem – it’s a people problem and people problems take people changes.  As the current generation of managers and decision makers make their way into retirement (go ahead guys, the water’s fine) and gen x, y and net gen take the helm, software will indeed be seen as just a basic ingredient.  Required yes, but the basis for out pacing your competition, no.
What comes after that is anyone’s guess.  I can see it already in my kids, only 7 and 9 years old.  They use Google docs, play flash games on the web and use gmail (all supervised, thank you very much).  My daughter uses her ASUS EEE to do everything from school to play and there isn’t a single app installed on it besides firefox.
So, SAP (and by extension all packaged enterprise application providers) is indeed faced with an adapt or die scenario.  Certainly not tomorrow but rather a slow death over 20 years – you know the kind that sneks up on you until one day it’s too late to do anything.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Salesforce.com has the future of the enterprise all wrapped up.  10-20 years is a long time to wait for the people the change out, and in that time there will be all forms of innovation and other new entrants that Mr. Benioff will have to fight off.  As Lotus, Apple, Word Perfect and many others can surely attest, it is not always the first mover that captures the greatest volume of profits.

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